Cablegate: Shanghai's Gay Community

DE RUEHGH #0318/01 1490621
R 290621Z MAY 07





E.O. 12958: N/A

1. (U) Summary: In a series of meetings with Poloff in April
2007, gay individuals in Shanghai said their identity and
lifestyle continued to be shaped by family and social pressures
to conform, which had different impacts on male and female
homosexuals. Maintaining a gay identity tended to be less at
the forefront for Chinese gays and lesbians than maintaining
family harmony and "face." General public attitudes towards
homosexuality were not hostile but instead shaped by a greater
social ideal of the traditional family. This is the first of
four cables updating the social, medical, media and legal trends
in the gay community in Shanghai. End Summary.


2. (SBU) Shanghai is a cosmopolitan and international city,
where women are reported to have stronger personalities than men
who are sought after for their cleaning and cooking talents and
emotional tenderness. During the month of April, Poloff
conducted numerous interviews with gay individuals living in
Shanghai, as well as academics and health professionals, to
discuss the gay community in Shanghai. The majority of gay
individuals interviewed for this cable find Shanghai an easy
place to live, particularly gay men. One gay male volunteer for
Chi Heng Foundation, a group that operated a toll-free hotline
for callers with questions about being gay, said that he "could
not imagine the misery of being gay in the countryside" and
relished his anonymity in Shanghai. He advised callers from
small towns to move to Shanghai, which he called "China's San
Francisco," or, Beijing, a second but lesser option. By
contrast, a senior doctor from the International Peace Maternity
and Child Health Hospital who was engaged in research on the gay
community insisted that Chengdu's environment far surpassed
Shanghai due to the quality of gay bars and frequency of
"traditional gay performances." He said that Chengdu's
sophisticated gay entertainment was not due to the city's
distance from Beijing, but because a high-level official in the
Chengdu municipal government was "personally interested" in the
gay community's quality of entertainment.

3. (SBU) A gay 25 year-old male engineer from Zhejiang and a
gay 23 year-old male from Jilin said that it was easy to be
"out" in Shanghai because of the reputation of Shanghai men as
being "soft and effeminate." They said that "people don't
necessarily think we are gay...just Shanghainese." They both
agreed that lesbians had the most freedom in Shanghai because it
was generally acceptable for women to hold hands in public.
They believed that "butch" or masculine lesbians were especially
lucky since most people thought the short hairstyles and tomboy
dress were fashion statements celebrating the recent Super Girl
TV show winners who dressed in androgynous clothing.

4. (SBU) Contacts noted, however, that Shanghainese attitudes
towards gay people were not motivated by openness towards
homosexuality, but rather a cultivated ignorance. One lesbian
said that her cropped hair, deep voice, and boyish clothing
caused confusion amongst some Shanghainese. She noted that
customers, taxi drivers and restaurant staff insisted that she
was a man despite her protests to the contrary. A
thirty-something lesbian said that she did not think the typical
Shanghainese was concerned about gay issues or would consider
going to an event to learn more about gay people. The gay
engineer agreed, stating that Shanghainese people were aware
that some people were gay, but "don't think twice about it
unless a direct family member is involved." Describing Shanghai
people's attitudes towards homosexuality, openly gay Lawyer Zhou
Dan quoted the traditional Confucian traditional saying,
"feiliwushi, feiliwuting, feiliwuxin, feiliwudong," meaning
people see something "uncivil" but don't state it or take
action, to describe Shanghai people's attitudes about
homosexuality. For example, after Zhou recently appeared on a
Phoenix TV show about gay issues, family friends, who were
previously unaware that Zhou was gay, approached his parents and
simply said "we saw your son on television." Nothing further
was discussed about the show or Zhou, but he said this was a
very Chinese way of making something hidden known but allowing

SHANGHAI 00000318 002 OF 005

it to remain unspoken.


5. (SBU) Due to the low level of awareness about homosexuality
in Shanghai, most gay couples' had few problems in renting
apartments or living together. The gay engineer from Zhejiang
explained that it was to their advantage that "young people in
Shanghai don't talk to their neighbors," adding that only people
"over 50 who lived in a small neighborhood for over ten years"
spoke to each other. He rarely saw his neighbors and suspected
that even if his neighbors were aware that he was gay, they
would not speak out. Another trend many identified was between
sets of older gay male and lesbian couples. In this scenario,
two same-sex male and female couples purchased two apartments in
the same building. The couples could then quickly switch to
opposite sex couples for events with relatives, giving the
appearance of a traditional family.


6. (SBU) Academic institutions in Shanghai have begun to pay
more attention to the gay community, primarily in relation to
health issues. Prestigious Fudan University offers two classes
on gay issues: "Homosexual Health" at the School of Public
Health, taught by Professor Gao Yanning, and "Gay Studies" at
the Department of Sociology, taught by Professor Sun Zhongxin.
In a meeting with Poloff on April 17, Dr. Gao said he began his
class in 2003 with only one registered student. In the
following years, only four students on average registered per
semester. However, Dr. Gao said that the class was typically
filled with 90-100 unofficial students, drawn by the day's topic
or a guest lecturer. He suspected that they preferred not to
have the course on their official transcripts.

7. (SBU) Despite several course offerings on gay studies and an
increase in graduate research on the gay community, university
students faced pressure to be perceived as "normal." Shanghai
Academy of Social Sciences (SASS) Research Center for HIV/AIDS
Public Policy Director Xia Guomei cautioned that just because
students took these classes did not mean that they accepted the
gay community. Zhou Dan also noted that there was pressure for
"top students" to appear straight out of fear of being excluded
from scholarships or entry into advanced studies. He said while
he recognized that he was gay at an early age, he stayed
closeted at university because he was worried about how his
professors would treat him and was concerned that they would not
provide him with future recommendations. One gay male said that
being a top student gave him freedom to explore his sexuality:
"my grades gave me flexibility or a buffer zone to do what I
wanted." He noted that "teachers in China don't know much about
this area or how to deal with it, so they pretend that it
doesn't exist."

8. (SBU) There are few gay or lesbian student organizations in
Shanghai. According to Dr. Gao, there was only one gay-related
student organization at Fudan University, which called itself
Knowledge Peace Group (Zhi Heshi). It was established in 2005
for the purpose of researching the gay community in relation to
health issues. Gao served as the group's supervisor. The group
was composed of around 30 members with both gay and straight
students. During Poloff's discussion with the group's founder,
he indicated that the group was more of a social group but had
initiated Fudan's first performance of the Eve Ensler's Vagina
Monologues in 2004.


9. (SBU) Despite Shanghai's booming economy and multitude of
multinational companies, gay individuals appear to be accepted,
or even present, only within a narrow scope of professions.
Many gay individuals spoke of occasional unwelcome attention
from co-workers trying to find them spouses. One man said,

SHANGHAI 00000318 003 OF 005

"People think we live a miserable life in solitude," and found
that his single status was cause for great concern at the
office. One woman said that it was impossible to get promotions
since a woman in her mid-thirties who was unmarried and was
clearly "normal." The 25 year-old engineer from Zhejiang
expressed with some dismay that he might be "the only gay
engineer in Shanghai." Wearing a tight tank top and a diamond
hoop, he explained that he dressed very differently at work and
was not out to co-workers. He did not believe that anyone at
his large engineering firm was aware that he was gay, and he was
not aware of any other gay colleagues.

10. (SBU) A lesbian working in the wine industry had told all
of her local friends that she was gay but preferred not to tell
her co-workers because "Shanghainese liked to gossip." And
while the engineer felt isolated at his firm, another gay male
was relatively comfortable being out with his colleagues because
"there are many gay people in public relations and advertising."
Besides, many gay Shanghainese did not use their sexuality as a
primary identifier. One man said, "unlike Americans, Chinese
people are not identity obsessed."

11. (SBU) A lesbian sporting a mowhawk said that she had very
long hair when she was hired by a local PR firm. Once her look
changed, the firm's HR director spoke to her about the need "to
wear high heels and not to dress like a boy." She has since
come out to some straight colleagues but has always worried
about their reaction. She also changed positions and now worked
for a foreign company, where many of the employees were gay.
Her work contract impressed her most because it contained a
paragraph on the company's policy not to discriminate based on
sexuality. However, even at her new position, she still worried
about making straight employees "feel uncomfortable."

12. (SBU) According to a 24-year old gay male from Chongqing,
and graduate of Fudan University, most foreign firms were more
gay-friendly than Chinese firms. He was not out at his previous
employer, GE, but decided to be out to certain employees at his
new firm, McKinsey Consulting, after discovering that one of the
partners was Chinese and openly gay. He joined Gays and
Lesbians at McKinsey (GLAM), which held conferences around the
world for all gay employees. He said there were only three
members at the Shanghai branch, but noted that there could be
more. Apparently, the Asian branches of GLAM were always very
small in comparison to the North American and European branches.

13. (SBU) Many gay individuals said that they suspected their
co-workers were aware of their sexuality but preferred not to
openly acknowledge nontraditional behavior. A local gay man
said the fine line of tolerance was "actually stating someone
was gay." He told a story of a friend who worked in a
three-star hotel and was fired after his boyfriend announced
their relationships to other employees. His boss dismissed him
by saying that too many people knew about him and that he had
disgraced the company.


14. (SBU) Beneath Shanghai's modern veneer, traditional values
run deep. The social pressure to conform stems from the family
unit, with many gay individuals bowing to family pressure to
marry and produce children. Almost all gay individuals
interviewed remain closeted to their parents and related stories
about gay people who revealed their sexuality only to have their
parents try to "cure them." One gay male remained closeted
because his mother "constantly told me that all gay people have
HIV/AIDS and other diseases." One lesbian explained that the
Asian cultural pressure to continue the family bloodline was the
biggest barrier to full disclosure. She said "adoption was not
even acceptable in Chinese families since blood was not passed
to a new generation." She spoke with some sadness about China's
new adoption law, explaining that the ban on single parents
could mean she would have to enter a convenience marriage, a gay
man wedded to a gay woman, to adopt in the future. However, she
and her girlfriend had shared the same room at her parents' home

SHANGHAI 00000318 004 OF 005

multiple times, and her parents always welcomed visits from her
girlfriend who they referred to as her "good friend"

15. (SBU) Some parents suspected their children's sexuality but
preferred it remain an unknown. One 35-year old gay male from
Chengdu described coming out to his parents as a guilt-inducing
process that felt like "shaking off a burden and placing it on
them because they now had to decide how to tell their friends."
He added that after he came out, his parents still tried to set
him up with a girl. To his surprise, his father eventually gave
him permission to marry a lesbian as an option "to save face in
their social network." Zhou Dan said the problem of fake
marriages, where one spouse was unaware of the other's
homosexuality, was the number one issue facing the gay community
in China. Zhou blamed the traditional Chinese outlook on family
for the pervasiveness of this problem. According to Zhou,
homosexual men in fake marriages treated their sexual relations
with men as a hobby and continued to have heterosexual
relationships, and even children, to please their parents.


16. (SBU) Another factor impacting the gay community in
Shanghai was the gender component at play within the gay
community. In Shanghai, women's and men's lives were quite
different due to the gender inequalities in China at large.
Convenience marriages and conventional marriages, for example,
mean very different things to lesbians or gays. One researcher
noted that gay men may have had the stigma of HIV/AIDS to
counter in society but that "gay women have no identity at all,
which may be even worse." One gay individual counted at least
11 gay venues in Shanghai, mainly catering to gay men. A
graduate student researching gay websites identified 100
websites devoted to the gay male community, but only 5.4 percent
geared towards lesbians. The owner of a gay nightclub said that
"when someone comments on the gay community in Shanghai, the
only image that comes to mind is a bunch of men." Shanghai
Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender (LGBT) was the first online
effort to unite the gay community and draw out Shanghai's
seemingly hidden lesbians. One gay male explained that it was
typical in Shanghai for gay men to congregate and organize
social events, but lesbians remained barely visible, preferring
to keep to themselves.

17. (SBU) One woman pointed to the creation of "Les in
Shanghai," another Yahoo group, which screened potential members
to ensure only gay females were permitted, as an example of the
divide. Shanghai LGBT was started in December 2006 in response
to "Les in Shanghai" denying membership to a straight female.
One of the LGBT founders said that the "Les in Shanghai" members
believed that straight applicants aimed to publicly "out" them.
Zhou Dan said lesbians distrusted the gay community because of
previous approaches by gay men with offers to enter fake
marriages. For women, family pressure forced women into
marrying, preferably before the age of 30. A senior doctor at
the International Peace Maternity and Child Health Hospital
pointed out that "if men don't get married, there are many
excuses ... they don't have a house, a high salary or a good job
... but for women there is only one excuse or they have a
disease." In fact, he stated "women have zero reasons not to be

18. (SBU) Some believed that the lack of visible lesbians or
lesbian venues might be due to a general trend in Shanghai of
women making lower salaries than men. One lesbian said that gay
bars for women did not stay in business long since most lesbians
in Shanghai were only "out" for a short period of time. She
explained that many lesbians only "come out" during college when
they still lived with their parents and had minimal disposable
cash. After graduation, many lesbians entered fake marriages
and disappeared from the scene.

19. (SBU) Gay men in Shanghai tended to have stronger economic
pull, and many stores and clubs had caught on and now vied for

SHANGHAI 00000318 005 OF 005

their patronage. One gay Shanghai native said that "gay men
were first publicized by HIV/AIDS and now everyone wants our
money." The gay McKinsey employee noted that beggars and taxi
drivers were all aware of the gay income power and stationed
themselves outside of nightclubs like "Pink Home." He said that
"a lot of beggars focus on the gay scene because they know that
gay men don't have a family burden, and many are rich."


20. (SBU) The personal concerns of gay individuals in Shanghai
about what to tell family and coworkers remain similar to those
around the world. The tolerant Shanghai population - perhaps
influenced by Shanghai's long-standing view of itself as an
international city with sophisticated, urbane people - leads to
fewer actual social clashes or problems than might be expected
in the face of thousands of years of traditional Chinese values.
However, this lack of obvious social clashes continues to mean
that legal issues related to the gay community, such as those
emerging in other countries, have not yet become major social
issues. There has yet to be a "Stonewall" in Shanghai or a
single moment of public controversy to push gay rights or issues
to the forefront of public debate. Furthermore, it seems that
the Shanghai government, as with many topics, is content not to
suppress or encourage public thinking about gay issues.

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